Viv Grant offers some key tips to help take the stress out of teaching
If you are a teacher, you would not have reached where you are today if you didn’t know how to harness the power of hope to help you overcome the stresses associated with your profession. We know though, that hope can be incredibly elusive. When external demands and pressures mount and crisis follows crisis, the light at the end of the tunnel can appear to be a very faint and distant glimmer. In such times, hope is just as essential for your own wellbeing, as rain is for flowers in the desert. Here are four tips for keeping your hope alive and reducing feelings of stress when the challenges arise.
Keep one eye backward and one eye forward
In order to live more fully and to make progress in our lives, it is helpful to have a process in place that enables us to develop a greater understanding of our own personal and professional journeys. Such a process enables us to develop a greater understanding of where we have come from and where we are heading and to hopefully move forward with deeper levels of insight and wisdom.
When this becomes a regular pattern of behaviour, it becomes much harder for you to be knocked off course by the challenges of school life, and you have a wider perspective for viewing events and understanding how they relate to the bigger picture, both personally and professionally.
Teaching does not happen in a vacuum. We need others to help it on its way. The connections that you make as you move forward will have a great impact on the degree to which you are able to deal successfully with the challenges of your role.
Paying attention to the relationships that you invest in and develop outside of school is just as important for your health and mental wellbeing as the amount of time you spend developing relationships in school.
Be smart in your affiliations. Some relationships drain your energy and sometimes, if not often, this is unavoidable in a professional context. Wherever you can, take great care in your personal relationships to ensure there is a balance and that others give back to you and do not leave you emotionally depleted.
Bend and do not break
The phrase “bend and do not break” – which some say has its origins in either Aesop’s fable The Olive Tree and the Reed or an old Chinese proverb – relates to the capacity of the bamboo to bend (and not break) even in the severest of storms. For too many teachers and school leaders resilience has meant putting on a brave face while becoming detached from all feeling and emotion; they have become so “brittle” that when the storms break, they have forgotten what it means to “bend”.
If you want to be able to withstand the storms that come with working in education, you have to be able to bend. You have to be able to allow yourself to feel and in so feeling to be receptive to what your mind and your body are telling you – and take action that shows you have understood these messages.
Know you have a choice
During everything that school life throws at you, it is important to remember that you have a choice as to how you respond. When we understand this, we put our conscious selves back into the driving seat of our lives. We stay in control of ourselves, as opposed to life’s events taking control of us. This is not always easy.
It takes discipline and conscious effort to choose how we respond to life’s calamities. However, when we master the art and become better at taking control, we experience the peace that comes with no longer letting others unduly influence our experience of our roles. We also promote hope in ourselves and promote it in those who are close to us.
The teacher’s guide to looking out for number one
- Learn to put yourself first. Only when your own needs have been met can you effectively meet the needs of others.
- Make time to think about what you want from your career and your life outside school. Ensure that, as far as possible, you make quality time for youself, your friends and your family.
- Stop and reflect on times when you have been praised for your work and try to focus in on the positives.
- Be brave. If a parent or a colleague has been rude or abusive, don’t avoid dealing with the situation. It will only get bigger and become more of an irritant. Ask yourself: “What do I want the outcome to be from this meeting or conversation?” Then identify the actions that you will need to take.
- Learn to ask for help and recognise that this is one of the ways in which we build inner strength. When we ask for help, we accept that we need relationships and meaningful connections with others to help us overcome life’s challenges.
- Find a fellow professional who will create a safe space where you can be vulnerable, let down your mask and talk through the impact your emotions have had on your thought processes and behaviour. In doing so, you will gain a deeper understanding of how your thoughts and emotions have shaped your ability to be resilient.
- Regularly take time to think about your skills and unique qualities. Learn to identify “peak” times in your career when you have performed at your best. Ask yourself: what skills, knowledge and qualities did I display? Have I developed these attributes any further? What else do I need to do to develop myself as an educator.
- Don’t allow your diary to become so full that you don’t have time to stop and think. Plan for thinking time and book it in, where possible, during the work day. This means you will do less worrying and fretting at home in the early hours of the morning.
About the author
Viv Grant is an executive coach, author and public speaker. She is the Director of Integrity Coaching, a provider of coaching services for school leaders. Viv has worked in the teaching profession, including as a headteacher, for more than thirty years.